By Bobby Curran.
The 2021 edition of San Diego State Aztecs football is what the program has become in recent years: a fabulous defense that is stingy against the run and only slightly kinder to opposing passers. They intimidate on that side, and on offense they feature a dynamic run game but don’t throw it well, or all that often.
Let’s start with the defense. They run the 3-3-5, which holds opponents to 92 yards rushing per game. Enjoy watching Cameron Thomas, who at 6’5, 270 has 42 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 12 QBH. The next time you see him will probably be in an NFL uniform. The DT is Jonah Tavai, a 6’4, 305 nightmare and whose brother is UH ‘s Justus Tavai. (Considering their older brother is current New England Patriot Jahlani Tavai, it’s fair to say that Mr. and Mrs. Tavai didn’t have to shell out a lot of college tuition money!)
The third member of the D-Line is Keyshawn Banks, at 6’4, 275 and is similarly disruptive, combining with Tavai for 47 tackles, 8 TFL and 11 QBH. The LB corps includes Caden McDonald at 6’3, 235, Seydrick Lakalaka (yes those Lakalakas from Honolulu) at 6’1, 235, and Segun Olubi at 6’2, 21. All three are all big hitters who can run.The leading tackler on the team is Aztec back Patrick McMorris, sort of a LB/S hybrid (think Khoury Bethley) who has amassed 54 tackles, broken up six passes, picked one off, and has a fumble recovery. The secondary has size with nobody shorter than 5’11 and a couple of 6’-plus footers. This defense is better than UCLA’s, and that is a scary thought.
On offense, SDSU is big up front, averaging over 6’4 and 320 lbs. They make the room for RB Greg Bell, the best back in the conference who has 668 yards and 6 TDs. I won’t get into details on the WRs; suffice it to say they are competent but not all-conference types, which leads to the Aztecs’ real problem: They can’t recruit an elite QB. Standout prospects are not interested in handing the ball off 50 times a game, and elite receivers don’t want to spend four years blocking the strong safety. They will start Lucas Johnson, one of three “squad” QB’s who are competent but not exceptional. The program hasn’t even been able to entice a good grad transfer, because they don’t believe they’ll be allowed to air it out. So the Aztecs annually have a Top 15 program everywhere but at QB.
UH has been plagued by inconsistency, marked by mistakes and penalties. If they could eliminate the false starts and holding calls on offense, they could be much more productive. Last week, Chevan Cordeiro returned after a month recovering from a shoulder injury and played well, 23 of 39 with 3 TDs. His only INT was the result of a deflection.
Hawaii’s running game went in the tank after going down 14-0, and they had to throw to try to get back in it. It was a spectacularly uneven performance, but they have rarely done that two games in a row. It will help if Dae Dae Hunter returns from injury, and UH needs a stellar performance from the O line against this level of defense. Cordeiro needs time, and Calvin Hunter, Jr. and Dedrick Parson need a crease to run through.
Defensively, UH has sometimes looked very good, but last week, especially on deep passes, Hawaii often had players in position, even strong double coverage, and just failed ro make a play. This Saturday, they will have to sell out to stop the run. That means good technique on tackling, effort on getting off blocks. As always, great defense starts with desire, want to. The first good crowd in two years should help as many of these players have never heard a motivated Hawaii crowd. UH needs to go 3-1 to be bowl eligible; an upset of the Aztecs on Saturday at Ching Field would be a great step forward. GoBows!